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Tennessee Football: Trust In Offense Allows For Gutsy Play Calling

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By all traditional thinking of playing football, Tennessee should have never gone for it on fourth-and-five on the first drive of its game against Virginia. So much for old-fashioned decisions. 

Instead of opting for a chip-shot field goal facing what was much more than a fourth-and-short, Tennessee coach Josh Heupel decided to try to convert. It worked. UT quarterback Joe Milton completed a nine-yard, touchdown pass to running back Dylan Sampson that gave the Vols a 7-0 lead to set the tone for a 49-13 win over Virginia on Saturday in Nashville.

Milton said he wasn’t surprised at all that Heupel made the gutsy call.

“He trusts offense,” Milton said. “He trusts our preparation, our ability to make a play. He believes in us. With all that being said, you’ve just got to go out and make it happen.”

It would be hard to imagine a better season-opener for Milton, who was slated to replace Hendon Hooker after his stellar season in 2022. Milton completed 21-of-30 passes for 201 yards and two touchdowns against the Cavaliers. The senior also ran the ball nine times for 32 yards and two touchdowns. However, Milton didn’t want to speak about himself. Well, not too much.

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“We won so that’s all that matters,” he said. “Only thing that matters is the next game. Every play you’re going to learn from. I feel like my eyes are in the right place, not just the things that happen out there, but judging my decision making. I feel that my decision making was great so let’s move on from that.”

The Vols will move on to play Austin Peay on Saturday in the home opener at Neyland Stadium. They’ll likely have to play without All-SEC center Cooper Mays, who missed the Virginia game with an undisclosed ailment. Mays’ absence didn’t seem to affect the Vols against the Cavs as Tennessee averaged 5.5-yards per carry, didn’t give up any sacks and one tackle for a loss.

“They all played together,” Milton said. “That’s all we ask for. That’s all we’ve been asking for the past two weeks is playing together, understanding the assignment. I give you guys (offensive linemen) time to point out to who you’re blocking, talk about what’s going on, just being on the same page is really what we’re asking for from those guys and those guys did that today.”

Tennessee was near flawless except for a run in the middle of the first half in which the Vols’ offense sputtered a bit. Milton seemed to miss some open receivers before the entire offense found its footing, closed out the half with a 21-3 lead and cruised to victory.

“Just not killing ourselves, not shooting ourselves in the foot,” Milton said when asked how to avoid such lapses during the game. “There were a couple of plays where some guys took a play off. The offense that we have and the team that we have, we don’t have time to take a play off. We have to keep going regardless of the position we play.”

Seems as if playing hard is still en vogue.

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